Another creative writing course exercise. This came in three parts – first, to write a newspaper-type account of an event in history; then to write it in the first person as an eyewitness account, and then to rewrite it as an unreliable witness! This is the third stage.
I first smelled smoke upstairs on the morning of the 5th. They always have smoke up there. I don’t like it, but they also have plenty of food on the ground. This smoke was different, though.
“We should be careful, Doris,” I said as we crept up the beam in the corner of the workroom.
Tosh was waiting for me at the top.
“Go down!” he hissed. “It’s a trap.”
We turned tail and ran, deep into the run we’d made over the spring and summer. Doris led the way down towards the wharf. Tosh and the others followed me but above their rustling I could hear the crackling of the flames following us. Why would it follow us? What devilry were they up to now?
We slithered out onto the beautifully yummy street where all the excrement had been thrown from the windows of the houses above. It had rich pickings for us, provided you kept your nose clean. People started screaming and running about, but we are used to that. Tosh led the ratcatcher alert party up onto the awnings of the market stall. I knew we could trust him. He was back down in a moment though.
“This is strange,” he said, “this lot ain’t bothered about us at all. They’re running from summat else, mate.”
We both looked where the people were coming from. Straight down the alley from Fenchurch Street side.
“That’s weird,” I said.
“Not ’alf, mate,” he agreed.
Doris leant against me. Too many people for her liking.
“Fleet?” I asked her. She nodded and we slithered back into the run. Doris’s got the Knowledge of all our runs. Queen of the Runs I call her. I whistled at Tosh and he called the alert party off watch and followed.
It took us a while. We had to double back a few times because the earth trembled so. I wondered if they were herding us again, like they had before. They’d not catch us if we reached the Fleet though.
“Where d’you think you’re going, darling?”
Ahead of us a loud aggressive male voice called, and a shadow blocked the exit from our run into the main thoroughfare.
“I’ll handle this,” Doris squeaked at me. She tiptoed forward and used all her womanly skills to move the huge black rat away. We sneaked out while his back was turned. Doris could be a right tart when she needed to be. Heart of gold though. The rest of the crowd followed me over to the road to the Fleet.
“Bloody blacks,” she said as she slumped beside me at our favourite lounging area beside the little river. “It’s all their fault anyhow, disease-ridden mongrels.”
I said nothing. She was right. She always was. I was listening to the crackle of flames. We slept until midnight then held a meeting.
Tosh still wanted to take his chance at the wharves. We knew it would be dangerous there, too many black chaps, sea rats they were. Whatever this game was, the ratcatchers were doing themselves a lot of damage. Driving us to the wharves wouldn’t solve it, we’d just swim to the other side providing the blacks would let us through. That was the problem. A lot of them liked to ‘play’ as they called it. I had a feeling we didn’t have time to play.
I argued for going north – St Botolph’s first, then maybe over the wall to Moorfields and up to the Angel if we could get that far. Doris stood firm beside me as I knew she would.
In the end Tosh took a party to the wharves, I led the rest north. I climbed the tower at St Botolph’s on the second night and called to Doris to come and look. The flames were rising above the city, the tower of St.Pauls an eery silhouette against the unearthly red and yellow.
“What have they done?” she cried. “Our homes, destroyed. Their homes too!”
“They’re mad,” I said. “Mad as a ratter. Let’s go north tonight, sweetheart. Tell the others to follow. I reckon we have to get under the wall and away. This whole lot’s going to go up!”
And I reckon it did.
If you haven’t placed the event yet, it was the Great Fire of London, September 1666.